Lola Nathan planned on spending April vacation on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Instead, she and her teachers and staffers forfeited their week off to prepare classrooms for when students return Monday—to a gleaming $48 million rebuilt version of their 93-year-old home.
It may not have been technically a vacation. But the air buzzed with excitement at the old-and-new-again home of Davis Street 21st Century Magnet School. Excitement, along with a lot of scurrying around.
“I’ve never opened a building before,” said Nathan (pictured), principal of the high-performing elementary and middle school, as she whizzed through the halls Wednesday in Sketchers tennis shoes coordinating staff and movers. “I had no idea how much work it would be.”
Central office owes the staff a week’s vacation, she added.
Holly O’Brien and Adeli DeArce set to work unpacking boxes, arranging desks and setting up a butterfly garden in a new, light-filled classroom they can call their own.
O’Brien (at left in photo), a teacher, and DeArce (right), a paraprofessional, have taught together for the past 10 years at Davis. They spent the past two years in a swing space on Orchard Street as the district set about building a brand new space for the school community back at its original home.
The brand new school at 25 Davis St. is set to open Monday with much fanfare.
The 72,000 square-foot, three-story school was designed by BL Companies of Meriden and built by A. Prete Construction Co. of New Haven. The total project will cost $48.1 million, with $40.1 million paid by the state and $8.0 million by the city, according to the city budget. (That includes bonding costs.)
The school has 470 students in grades pre-K to 7; the new space will allow it to complete its expansion to a full pre-K to 8 school.
DeArce unpacked markers while O’Brien stocked the cupboards above a brand new sink. The classrooms all have interactive whiteboards, new computers, and big windows. O’Brien pointed to where a rug will be laid out for morning meeting time. In the winter, kids will sit on a heated floor, she said. O’Brien said she loves the new space.
The swing space where they have taught for the past two years, the former Vincent Mauro School, was dreary, O’Brien said. When she walked into her new classroom this week, she was delighted: “Wow, there’s so much light.”
Nathan said she spent Sunday preparing the school, and plans to be there Easter Sunday, too.
She paused in the hallway to greet a new student—and make arrangements for a social worker to help him transition smoothly on Monday. Students and some parents toured the school last week.
Nathan said the building will “bring about a new mindset” for students and staff, as well as a sense of pride.
“A good environment is always motivational,” Nathan said. However, she noted, the “newness” alone won’t boost student learning—it needs to be coupled with academic initiatives. Nathan’s school was ranked in the highest tier when a first batch of schools were graded last year, granting her new autonomy in how she runs the school.
As Nathan walked through the halls Wednesday morning, staff moved about preparing for a new chapter.
Marianne Apuzzo (pictured), the magnet resource director, was busy planning new bus routes for the first day of school.
Marcus Walton (pictured), who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade math, pulled out “sentence strips” from a cardboard box in his classroom. He said he’ll use them for math vocabulary. Walton, who’s in his third year teaching at the school, has two kids at the school. He’s one of the staffers that Nathan recruited through an unconventional route.
Walton had been working as an investor, “balancing million-dollar accounts.” He started volunteering as a parent and a mentor, then, with Nathan’s encouragement, made a career switch. Now he uses his computational skills to teach pre-Algebra.
Band director William Fluker (pictured) presided over a new orchestra and chorus room, as well as a storage closet stocked with brand new instruments. As part of the school construction project, the school got 40 new instruments, including six trumpets and six saxophones.
Students in the marching band will show off their talent at Monday’s opening ceremony at 10:30 a.m. with a performance of “In The Stone” by Earth, Wind and Fire.
“The kids are so fired up,” Fluker said. “They can’t wait.”
When the doors open, students will walk into an atrium with a high, wood-paneled ceiling.
They’ll walk past a cornerstone from the original Davis Street school, which was built in 1918 by the Westville School District. The building opened as an eight-room, brick schoolhouse; it was twice expanded before being demolished for this project.
The school features a brand new performance space, art room with kiln, and a computer lab attached to the light-filled library.
Inside the library, colorful chairs with etchings of insects await readers.
Outside, workers leveled dirt on the school’s field ...
... and finished up other last-minute business.